What happened to the Jazz-Age generation? A newspaper reporter once asked Francis Scott Fitzgerald. He answered "Some became brokers and threw themselves out of windows. Others became bankers and shot themselves. Still others became newspaper reporters. And a few became successful authors."
Nowadays he fits completely into the last category. Faulkner, Hemingway and Fitzgerald are symbols of American Literature in the 20th Century. But in the year 1940, when he died in Hollywood from the heart attack provoked by prolonged alcoholism, the obituaries were mourning more about the unfulfilled promises than about the premature death of the genius.
F. Scott Fitzgerald went to Hollywood in 1937, when his life was already reaching its nadir. His wife Zelda was permanently in psychiatric hospitals, his financial situation was not far from catastrophe, he was a heavy and unhappy drinker, already buried by critics as another gone-off talent and literature has-been. His self-characteristic in his 1935 'Crack-Up' essays was a -cracked plate. And the typical passage from this depression stimulated work is "Now the standard cure for one who is sunk is to consider those in actual destitution or physical suffering. This is an all-weather beatitude for gloom in general, but at 3 o'clock in the morning the cure doesn't work-- and in a real dark night of the soul it is always 3 o'clock in the morning."
'Tender is the Night' published a year before the essays (and entered to PG Australia this week) despite its calmer and more uncertain ending, has the same air of decline, since the troubles and unsettledness were marked his life a for long time. You can find those black marks during 7 long years in Europe, which ended with his wife Zelda's breakdown in 1930. Customary debts and broken friendship were another American literature pillar of 20th century living at that time in Old World. The Fitzgeralds sailed to Europe in 1924 in search for new excitements and a hopefully less expensive life. They deliberately took the unlicensed ship and on its sober boards the 30 years old Francis, yet full of energy and willpower, finished the 'The Great Gatsby'. But again it already was not a very happy time - the debts were deep, and the failure of the play 'Vegetable' in 1923 followed the reasonable success of 'Tales of the Jazz Age' in 1922.
And even in 1920, immediately after the tremendous success of his first big work 'This Side of Paradise', Fitzgerald was traveling along Broadway in an open-top car. It was a warm, still night, and he was in a heightened state of drunken exhilaration. The future seemed infinitely inviting. Then, bafflingly, he began to cry - because "life would never be so sweet again". Was it the self-fulfilled prophecy or just normal reaction of sensitive nervous system to the alcoholic intoxication, I can not say. It was hard to foretell the twillight in 1920 - he was 23 years old, praised by all critics and public as the most promising contemporary American author and living the life as far away from the grey surviving routine as possible. Same year he has married Miss Zelda Sayre, daughter of Anthony D. Sayre, an Alabama Supreme Court Justice, the girl who previously had broken their engagement, due to fear of underfinanced life with young and poor Francis. But strangely his words did came out true - the most enjoyable years of his life were already over. Those were years spent in the army (1917-1919) and before that in Princeton (1912-1917), where he concentrated on the playwriting and having good time in general. The constant shortness in finances was always in the air, but the energy and talent were abundant, so the sorrows were sweet, the nights tender and the conversations full of hidden sense and open fire - Back there, on Christmas parties in 1914, 18-years old Francis met and fall in love with lovely Ginevra King - future prototype for all those witty, joyful young ladies dancing and flirting with southern accent in his stories. He was 'handsome, insouciant and possessing unusual gifts for story telling'.
Here I want to stop and let him stay at this moment of his life, as he always wanted, instead of describing the childhood of a son of serial bankrupt growing up in the wealthy neighborhood of St. Paul. Let's leave it to the real biographers and just go and greet today the Mollie McQuillan-Fitzgerald and Edward Fitzgerald with the birth of their son Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald, named so after the famous ancestor from Mollie's side - Francis Scott Key, composer of "The Star Spangled Banner. The newborn is screaming and others are smiling. And actually they are right - the great talent was born today - on 24th of September 1896 in the privet home at 481 Laurel Avenue, St. Paul.Internet Links:
University of South Carolina - has many interesting documents, including obituaries, voice and film clips etc. Amongst them the test of 'Romantic Egotist' - the novel that Fitzgerald wrote during the service in the army and which was then transformed to 'This Side of Paradise'. It has also lovely small collection of his short stories, that will bring the splash of the hot lazy wind of South on your face chilled under the air-conditioner.
The sunlight dripped over the house like golden paint over an art jar, and the freckling shadows here and there only intensified the rigor of the bath of light. The Butterworth and Larkin houses flanking were intrenched behind great stodgy trees; only the Happer house took the full sun, and all day long faced the dusty road-street with a tolerant kindly patience. This was the city of Tarleton in southernmost Georgia, September afternoon.
Up in her bedroom window Sally Carrol Happer rested her nineteen-year-old chin on a fifty-two-year-old sill and watched Clark Darrow's ancient Ford turn the corner. The car was hot-- being partly metallic it retained all the heat it absorbed or evolved -- and Clark Darrow sitting bolt upright at the wheel wore a pained, strained expression as though he considered himself a spare part, and rather likely to break. He laboriously crossed two dust ruts, the wheels squeaking indignantly at the encounter, and then with a terrifying expression he gave the steering-gear a final wrench and deposited self and car approximately in front of the Happer steps. There was a plaintive heaving sound, a death-rattle, followed by a short silence; and then the air was rent by a startling whistle.
Sally Carrol gazed down sleepily. She started to yawn, but finding this quite impossible unless she raised her chin from the window-sill, changed her mind and continued silently to regard the car, whose owner sat brilliantly if perfunctorily at attention as he waited for an answer to his signal. After a moment the whistle once more split the dusty air.
With difficulty Clark twisted his tall body round and bent a distorted glance on the window.
"'Tain't mawnin', Sally Carrol."
"Isn't it, sure enough?"
"What you do in'?"
"Eatin' 'n apple."
"Come on go swimmin'-- want to?"
"How 'bout hurryin' up?"
Sally Carrol sighed voluminously and raised herself with profound inertia from the floor, where she had been occupied in alternately destroying parts of a green apple and painting paper tops for her younger sister. She approached a mirror, regarded her expression with a pleassd and pleasant languor, dabbed two spots of rouge on her lips and a grain of powder on her nose, and covered her bobbed corn-colored hair with a rose littered sun bonnet. Then she kicked over the painting water, said, "Oh, damn!" -- but let it lay-- and left the room.